The first edition of IRRODL for 2012 is now out, and one of the 15 articles is the one I spent a lot of last year working on with Carmen Tschofen
Tschofen, C. & Mackness, J. (2011) Connectivism and Dimensions of Individual Experience. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl
Having both been participants of the first MOOC (CCK08), we have observed and reflected on developments over the past four years. This paper is a result of those observations, discussions, reflections – namely around our perceptions of
a growing tension between the elements of connectivity believed to be necessary for effective learning and the variety of individual perspectives both revealed and concealed during interactions with these elements.
The Research Process
We didn’t start with the intention of writing a paper and our original discussions, which also included Matthias Melcher, were all related to learner autonomy. In fact I signed up for CCK11 with the specific intention of focusing on gaining a better understanding of the meaning of learner autonomy and set up a wiki to gather my thoughts and then invited Matthias and Carmen to join me. Discussions were deep and intense, often highly convoluted and we produced pages and pages of wiki script, so much so that ultimately when we did decide to write a paper, it was difficult to see the wood for the trees.
Our first submission to IRRODL was not accepted. It wasn’t rejected as such – we were told that it wouldn’t fit with the special issue we submitted it for (and to be honest we had tried to ‘make it fit’) and were invited to rewrite it and resubmit. But by this time the conversations in the blogosphere had moved on and so had our thinking, so we ended up submitting a completely new paper, although it does still include reference to learner autonomy.
The Peer Review Process
Our paper was reviewed by three people – I assume blind reviewed. The outcome was a bit bizarre. Reviewer A’s feedback included many ‘Excellents’ and ‘Satisfactorys’, Reviewer B thought the paper ‘Unsatisfactory’ and needing major rewriting and gave us very comprehensive feedback as to why. Reviewer C’s feedback included many ‘Satisfactorys’ . We didn’t receive any guidance from the Editor as to which Reviewer to believe. So we didn’t do a major rewrite , but we did make quite a number of more manageable changes.
Reviewer B strongly objected to our use of blog posts as sources of information, and I have to say that we rather strongly objected to his/her objection. There were at least two reasons why we thought reference to blog posts was legitimate for this paper.
First, most of the conversations about connectivism and MOOCs happen in blogs – published research is as yet quite limited. We do not believe, as Reviewer B appears to, that all blog posts are inferior to published journal articles, nor that a writer can only be quoted from a peer-reviewed publication.
Second, we were quite often writing our paper in response to the changing conversations that were happening in the blogosphere at the time. In fact we were worried that our paper was going to be out of date before it was even published, and even on the very final submission added a last reference, which we had just come across.
Finally (and very pertinent to us) is the fact that neither of us works for an academic institution, nor do we live within easy access of a university library. By force of circumstance, the Web is our main source of information, papers, articles etc. and there is no convenient catalogue to tell you where to look. I think, in the years to come, there will be more and more people like me who start doing research as self-employed people, or post retirement and who will be looking to the Web for their sources of information.
- We wanted to publish the paper in its submission form (i.e. before peer review) on our blogs. We could see that some MOOC participants were discussing the very issues we were writing about and it would have been great to discuss them with a wider group – but despite three requests to IRRODL for permission to do this, we didn’t receive a response to our request. Even a ‘No’ would have been better than nothing. As it was, we didn’t know whether posting to our blogs would count as pre-publication and therefore jeopardize our chances of having the paper accepted – so we didn’t. Perhaps we should have been braver!
- Despite the fact that IRRODL’s turn around time is fast compared to other journals, it still feels slow in terms of the potential for discussion and how fast everything moves on the Web. We submitted the paper in October, which is not that long ago in terms of actual days, but it is in terms of my thinking. I doubt that IRRODL could have published any quicker, so I’m not sure how this mismatch between author and publisher could be resolved. One of our purposes in writing the paper was to generate discussion, but things have moved on.
A while back I wrote a post with the title Pas de Deux Online Partnerships ; I feel this is exactly what happens for me when working on these papers. I get to work with people who can raise my thinking and understanding to levels that I would not be able to reach alone. The discussions we have on the wiki are highly stimulating and ‘out of the glare’ of public blogs, we can really dig deep, reflect, get to know each other and challenge each other.
We have discussed whether we need to publish. Could we just publish on our blogs and leave it at that? Matthias and I tried this (See http://jennymackness.wordpress.com/2010/09/10/the-riddle-of-online-resonance/), and I now feel that our work is more likely to be read if it is published in a journal, especially an open journal. I also feel that after spending almost a year intensely working, reading, thinking, discussing, disagreeing, challenging, compromising and finally agreeing, it feels right to publish and celebrate ‘the fruits of our labour.
A big thank you Carmen – and also thanks to Matthias for your valuable contributions in the early stages.